Posted: Wednesday June 22, 2005 11:55AM; Updated: Wednesday June 22, 2005 4:21PM
You might say Powell did the track world a major favor when he did. Mr. Marion Jones has hardly been himself since the BALCO scandal. His presumed guilt by association was enough to convince the United States Anti-Doping Agency of the need for a lifetime suspension against the 30-year-old Carolina-born sprinter. Three weeks ago, Montgomery's case was heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which had considered wiping out his record altogether before Powell beat them to it.
Submit a comment or question for Andrew.
And for that favor he can expect nothing but scrutiny from the cynics. On paper, Powell appears every bit as earnest as his sport once was pre-BALCO. A preacher's son, he grew up in the south central town of Linstead (in my dad's native parish of St. Catherine), about 30 miles from Kingston. The youngest of six kids, Powell wasn't even the best runner among them. That honor would go to his older brother Donovan, a 100-meter semi-finalist in the 1999 World Championships. Asafa decided to follow in his brother's footsteps some years ago -- even flying up to Texas to train alongside him. But Donovan didn't think much of his kid brother as a sprinter and urged him to try something else.
Crestfallen, Powell returned Home, at the Kingston-based University of Technology linking up with coach Stephen Francis, who in the past four years has gained a reputation for something of a Midas touch when it comes to cultivating home-grown talent. His client list of Olympians includes Usain Bolt, Jermaine Gonzalez, Aleen Bailey and Sherone Simpson, who took gold in the women's 100-meter in Athens the same day Powell won the men's.
Once JA runners blow up, though, keeping them on the island can be challenging. Many leave to accept scholarships at U.S. colleges or to compete for other countries. To wit: former World's Fastest Man Donovan Bailey raced for Canada; 1992 Olympic 100-meter gold medallist Linford Christie ran under the Union Jack. But Powell intends to live out the rest of his days living and training in Jamaica and has it ever made an impact. He returned from Europe to a hero's welcome at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, his mere presence drawing well-wishers by the hordes while bringing local politicians to a fever pitch. Minister of Sports Portia Miller, tired of a Kingston that boasts one of the highest per capita crime rates in the western hemisphere, exhorted criminals to -- and I'm quoting the Jamaica Gleaner here -- "discard the gun and their destructive ways" and look to this 6'2," 192-pound Green Lantern as their beacon to a better life.
"Can't you now look at this son of Jamaica, our son, your brother [and] stop the killings?" Miller implored. "Can't you now see there is a different way? A better way?" So moved was Prime Minister P.J. Patterson by the run, he heralded it as "an eloquent testimony of Jamaica's profound impact on the international stage and possibilities as a nation in the modern world."
The only one seemingly unaffected by the rhetoric is Powell, who continues to stride through life at mortal's pace. He is expected to run in Jamaica's National Track and Field Championship next weekend (which has come to be a reunion of sorts for all those runners who race abroad) in the hopes of landing a spot on the national team for the World Championships in August (uhh, nevermind his race into the record books). As for what other records might collapse under his feet, "you will just have to wait until the end of this year's season to see," he said.
The record-breaking run not only announced Powell's arrival on the world's stage but delivered an emphatic message to the rest of the field, even if it may have been in patois: Im run tings.